Elizabeth Wilson Grierson.

Florence online

. (page 5 of 7)
Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonFlorence → online text (page 5 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

There is something very interesting here. Giotto
was Dante's friend, and he was proud of the fact.
Look ! On the east wall, above where the altar stood,
is a representation of Heaven, with all the Redeemed
thronging into it, and there among them, on the right,
is Dante, in the ordinary dress which a Florentine
citizen wore at that date ; for these old painters did not
hesitate to make their sacred pictures very realistic, and
would often paint, not the figures of Jews of Palestine,
or of Wise Men of the East, but of the ordinary Italian
people among whom they lived and worked.

But, alas! culture very often went hand in hand with
terrible cruelty in those days. Next to the beautiful
chapel opening out of it, in fact is a little room used
as a cell, where a poor man, who, when he was young,
had been a Franciscan monk, but had broken his vows
and become a brigand, was chained, as a punishment,
like a dog to the wall, for thirty years, till he died.

Again, the picturesque Audience-Chamber, which
we have just been admiring, served, some six hundred


58 Florence

years ago, as the retiring-room of the Duke of Athens,
who had been such a wicked man that he was obliged
to take refuge in the Bargcllofrom the vengeance of some
of the nobles of Florence who had suffered from his
tyranny. They besieged the building until he and
his followers were like to die of starvation, then, to
his everlasting disgrace, he saved his life, not by going
out to the enraged citizens himself, but by opening the
door a very little, and pushing out one of his Knights,
and the Knight's son, a boy of eighteen, who had both
been very zealous in carrying out their master's orders.
The citizens were satisfied with these two victims, whom
they hacked to pieces at once, and carried the bloody
fragments of flesh through the streets on their lances.

Such were the contrasts which Florence presented in
those days. Violence, and scheming, and bloodshed in
the streets and Palaces, and in tiny little workshops,
and churches, and convent cells, plain, homely men, who
yet were the possessors of marvellous gifts, working
quietly at paintings, or sculptures, or carvings, which
are looked on now as priceless treasures.

Then there is the Palazzo della Signoria, or the
Palace of the Governors of the city, more commonly
called the Palazzo Vecchio, or Old Palace, standing at
the side of the Piazza della Signoria. It has rather a
curious history.

Arnolfo, about whom we have read in the chapter on
" Builders," was asked to build a Palace for the Signoria.
But, unfortunately, it was just at the time when there
was such a rivalry between the parties of the Guelphs
and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs were in power, and
to show their hatred of the Ghibellines they told the
poor architect that he must build the Palace in the

Its Palaces 59

square, and yet that he must on no account build it on
a foot of ground which had belonged to the Ghibellines

o o

which was somewhat difficult, for these Ghibellines
had once had a Palace in the centre of the square, the
very place on which Arnolfo was planning to build!

But there was no help for it. He had to do as he
was bid, so with great difficulty, and by dint of knock-
ing down a house or two, and part of a church, he
managed to get his new Palace squeezed into a corner
of the square. It had to stand a little off the straight,
but that did not matter. And, to add to his difficulties,
he had to take in an old tower, the Tower of the Vacca,
or Cow, in which a bell hung, called " The Cow," of
which the citizens were very fond. But he managed
to do this also, and he made the Tower higher, so that
it would rise above the rest of the Palace.

It is a beautiful Tower, with a wonderful crown of
stone upon it, in which the old bell still hangs. But
Arnolfo did not live to complete it. He was quite
content to have designed and built the solid building,
however, " the difficult part," as he called it, and was
willing that "other Masters," who came after him,


should do the rest.

Other two very large and famous Palaces are the
Uffizi Palace, one corner of which stands just opposite
the Palazzo Vecchio, and is so big that it forms two sides
of the street which runs from the Piazza della Signoria
to the Arno ; and the Pitti Palace, which stands on the
other side of the river.

The Pitti Palace was built for a private citizen, Luca
Pitti, in the fifteenth century, and as we look at its
enormous size and strength we realize how wealthy
these old merchants of Florence were. But misfortune

60 Florence

fell upon his family, and they were forced to sell it to
the wife of one of their bitterest foes, Cosimo de'
Medici. Since then it has always been the Palace of
the reigning Sovereign, of the Grand Dukes first, then
of the present King, who lives here when he comes to

Not satisfied with the Pitti Palace as a residence,
Cosimo also built the Uffizi Palace, and there is a
secret passage between the two, or a so-called secret
passage, for, as it is formed by the covered gallery
which was built upon the Ponte Vecchio, it must always
have been plainly seen. This was for purposes of
safety. If the Pitti Palace were attacked the inhabitants
could escape to the Uffizi, and probably they had also
a secret means of exit from the passage into one of the
tiny houses which surrounded it, at either end of the

Once in the Uffizi Palace, Cosimo's family at least
was fairly safe ; for close to it adjoining it, in fact is a
great loggia, raised about six feet from the street, known
as the Loggia de' Lanzi, which took its name from the
Swiss Lancers who were always stationed here, as a
bodyguard for the Duke and his friends.

And besides this, another covered passage, high up
in the air, connects the Palace with the Palazzo Vecchio,
where a strong body of soldiers would always be

Yet, in spite of these precautions, the downfall of this
powerful family came at last ; and the son of Lorenzo
the Magnificent, after weakly delivering up the city
into the hands of Charles the Eighth of France, was
driven beyond its walls by the avenging citizens.

The two Palaces are turned into huge picture-

Two Old Monasteries 61

galleries at least, the whole of the Uffizi is used for
this purpose, and one wing of the Pitti Palace, the rest
of it serving, as we have seen, as a Royal residence.

In these galleries hang hundreds of beautiful
paintings, some of them celebrated all over the world,
and if we had time we might well spend days and weeks
in doing nothing else but studying them.



IF we leave the city by the Porto San Gallo, and walk
along the road that leads to Fiesole, we will come to
an old church and convent, just at the foot of the hill,
where the road begins to ascend. This is the Convent
of San Domenico di Fiesole, and although it is not
particularly interesting in itself, we must visit it if we
want to know something of the life of Guido da Vicchio,
better known as " Fra Angelico," the C Angelic Brother,"
with whose paintings of angels we are all familiar,
whether we have been to Florence or not angels clad
in bright-coloured robes, scarlet and green, blue and
amber, with halos round their heads, and trumpets
or cymbals in their hands, who are always looking
upwards, as if they were joining in the Angelic Song of

For it was to the doors of this convent that Guido
and his brother Benedetto, who afterwards became
Pope, came some five hundred years ago, from their
home among the hills two country lads of twenty and
nineteen and craved admittance,

Guido was a born artist, but he felt that he must

62 Florence

become a monk, and it was wonderful how he managed
to combine the two vocations. His Prior, like a sensible
man, allowed him to go on with his art in the convent,
and Guido, or Fra Giovanni, as he was called in his
new home, looked on his art always as a gift given to
him from God, to be used in the service of the Church,
and he did more, perhaps, than will ever be known, to
strengthen the faith of his brother-monks in the reality
of things unseen, by the beautiful frescoes with which
he surrounded them.

We see most of these frescoes in the Convent of San
Marco, within the city walls, where he spent many of
his later years ; but it was while he lived here, at
San Domenico, that he gained the skill, and the self-
confidence, and the delicate art of colouring which
make his works so different from those of any other
artist. He gained his skill by patient, untiring practice ;
he gained his self-confidence from the fact that he never
began to paint without first kneeling down and saying
his prayers, and having done this, he never altered a
picture, or listened to what anyone else said about it,
because he believed that God granted him inspiration
for his work ; and he gained his sense of colour by
wandering about the hills round the monastery, and
drinking in, as it were, all the wonderfully blended
tints that surrounded him the blue of the sky, the
tender greys and greens of the olive and fig trees,
the reds and pinks of the carnations, oleanders, and
roses, and the purples and heliotropes of the clematis
and lilac.

Someone has said that Fra Angelico's palette might
have been " made out of a rainbow," and it is quite
true ; and we have only to go up the hill of Fiesole

Two Old Monasteries 63

on a bright day in early summer to understand how he
learned to set it.

Thus, when, after twenty years of life at San
Domenico, he was sent with the other members of the
Community to take possession of the Monastery of San
Marco, he was ready for the congenial task that lay
before him. The monastery was in ruins, having been
destroyed by fire, and the brethren had to live at first
in miserable huts, which had been hurriedly built for
them. These were so unhealthy that a great many of
them died, and the Pope interfered, and prevailed on
Cosimo de' Medici, who was then the great man in
Florence, to rebuild the monastery.

Let us go and visit it, for it stands to-day just as it
stood when it was completed, and Fra Giovanni and
his friends took possession of it. Only then the walls
were cold and bare, now they are covered with very
quaint and lovely frescoes. For the Prior asked the
gentle artist-monk, whom everyone loved, who was
already earning for himself the title of " Fra Angelico,"
or <c Beato Angelico," partly because of the beauty of
his paintings, and partly for his sweet and holy character,
to hide the bareness of thewalls bypainting pictures upon
them. And we may be sure that Fra Angelico was only
too glad to obey, for his thoughts were always busy with
heavenly things, and now he had an opportunity of doing
his part to keep the image of these heavenly things
before the eyes of men.

So he set to work upon the bare white walls, and
although he has been dead nearly five hundred years,
his pictures, so simple and yet so beautiful, greet us
still as we wander through the deserted monastery,
which is now more or less of a museum.

64 Florence

As we enter the quiet cloister, we find ourselves
opposite a picture of the Crucifixion just the Figure
on the Cross and a Dominican monk kneeling beneath
it. This was copied in each of the novice's cells up-
stairs by Fra Angelico's brother, Fra Benedetto, who
must also have been a very clever painter.

If we turn round and look above the door by which
we entered, we shall see another suggestive picture.
It is a figure intended to represent St. Peter Martyr,
one of the most famous Dominican Saints, with his finger
on his lip, as if to remind the Brothers, as they glanced
up at him, of their rule of silence. Over another door-
way we see two Dominican monks receiving our Lord in
the person of a tired wayfarer. We wonder, as we look
at this, if it were a gentle hint to the Community not
to be "forgetful to entertain strangers."

But, interesting as the cloisters are, the little cells

o '

upstairs are more so. Each has its picture, painted on
the space of wall near the window. All of them are
scenes from our Lord's life, and show how the
thoughts of the artist-monk must have dwelt constantly
upon it.

Here our Lord is teaching the twelve Apostles ;
here He is transfigured upon the mountain. Here
we see Him bound and buffeted, and, strangely, only
the hands of those who buffet Him are visible. Now
He descends into Hell, and the wonderful love and
imagination of the old painter gives us a glorious
representation of how

" Patriarch and Priest and Prophet

Gather round Him as He stands,
In adoring taith and gladness,
Hearing of the pierced Hands."


Two Old Monasteries 65

Here is His Resurrection, and here His Ascension,
and final Glory.

And outside, in the passage, is one of the most
beautiful of all, an "Annunciation," where the Arch-
angel Gabriel comes to tell the Maiden of Nazareth
about the birth of our Lord. Surely the monks who
lived among these pictures and, remember, Savonarola
and the good Archbishop Antonino were at one time
among their number must have had their daily lives
influenced by them.

Other pictures of Fra Angelico's are to be found
elsewhere, especially in the picture - gallery of the
Uffizi Palace. Here we can see a wonderful altar-
piece, or reredos, as we should call it, "The Coronation
of the Virgin amid the Heavenly Choir," and another
of the Madonna and Child, surrounded by a multitude
of the Heavenly Host, simply dazzling in their glory
of clear-tinted colours and burnished gold, from which
most of his angels, either single, or in groups, are copied.



IT is difficult to write about the painters and sculptors
of Florence because there are so many that it would
need quite a big book to tell a little bit about each of
them. But we cannot go into the picture-galleries and
churches and museums without seeing their work, and
coming across their names, so I think that we must
learn a little about the best-known of them. \Ye
have already spoken of Cimabue, Giotto, Fm Angelico,
Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Luca Delia
FL. 9

66 Florence

Robbia, so we must go on to those men who came after
them, or, at least, who came after the first three. First
there was Filippo Lippi, and his son, Filippino Lippi,
whose frescoes and altar-pieces are after the same style
as those of Fra Angelico, and specimens of whose work
we may see in the galleries, and the Church of the
Carmine. For of course we must remember that all
these early painters painted only religious pictures, the
most common subjects being the Annunciation, the
Madonna and Child, the Holy Family (which very
often includes St. Joseph and the little St. John Baptist),
the Adoration by the Wise Men of the East, the
Crucifixion, Christ's Descent from the Cross, and his
Exaltation in Glory.

Filippo Lippi took pupils, as most of the great
Masters did, and among them was Sandro Botticelli,
whose works are very well known in Italy, although
perhaps we do not hear so much about them in England.
This painter was born in a house in the Via Nuovo, and
was the youngest child but one of a very large family.
He was a delicate little boy, and was handed over to
the care of a prosperous elder brother, who paid for his
upbringing, and, when he was thirteen, apprenticed him,
as we have seen, to Filippo Lippi.

When he was a man he went to Rome, and helped to
paint some of the chapels in the Vatican. He returned
to Florence, and although he had not taken much
interest in Savonarola when he was alive, he was so im-
pressed by the bravery and steadfastness of his death,
that he became a deeply religious man, and people say
that the pictures that he painted afterwards, were always
touched with a certain sadness. A great many of these
pictures are in the galleries of the Pitti and Uffizi

Its Painters and Sculptors 67

Palaces, and one of them, a " Nativity," is in the
National Gallery in London.

Then comes Leonardo da Vinci, and Perugino, and
Lorenzo Credi, all of whom worked together as lads in
the workshop of a sculptor named Andrea Verrochio.

Leonardo da Vinci, who is best known perhaps by
his painting of the "Last Supper," which is to be found
on the walls of a convent in Milan, was a country lad,
who came from a little village among the hills, but who
was such a wonderful painter that he was admitted as a
member of the "Guild of Florentine Painters " when
he was only twenty. He was something of a " Jack-
of-all-trades," for he was such a genius that he not only
painted pictures, but was an engineer, an architect, and
a sculptor as well.

His friend Perugino may be counted as one of the
painters of Florence, for he spent the years when he
was poor, and struggling, and unknown in this city.
Afterwards he lived in the city of Perugia, and had his
studio there, but that was in the days when he was
famous, not only in Italy, but throughout Europe. He
was one of the first of the Italian painters who painted
in oils.

When he was in Florence he was so poor that he
had no bed, but slept on a chest for many months, and
denied himself the bare necessities of life, in order that
he might have money to buy colours, and persevere in
his art. He has been compared to Fra Angelico,
because he was such a saintly man that he always
seemed to be thinking of heaven, and the faces that
he painted are so calm and peaceful that it has been
said of his work, "that no pain comes near the tolk of
his Celestial City." He had the honour to be the

68 Florence

master of Raphael, who also spent part of his life in
Florence, and was a friend of Ghiberti and Donatello.

Raphael, as you know, was one of the greatest
painters that the world has ever seen, just as Michael
Angelo was one of the greatest sculptors. He
painted many pictures, representing many subjects,
but he loved, more than anything else, to paint pictures
of the Madonna and her Child. Perhaps this was
because he lost his mother when he was a little boy, and
in his home hung a picture of her, with one of her
children on her knee, and perhaps he used to go and
look at it, and study it, until the idea of motherhood,
calm, and sweet, and loving, was stamped on his brain,
and influenced all his work.

A great many of his pictures are in Florence, among
them being the " Madonna della Sedia," or the
" Madonna of the Chair," which I am sure you all
know. It represents the Virgin Mother seated on a
chair, with the Infant Jesus on her lap, and little
St. John the Baptist leaning against her knee.

Another of his Madonnas, the " Sistine Madonna,"
is in the Dresden Gallery, the Elector of Saxony having
bought it for ^9,000, while our own nation paid
^70,000 for his " Ansidei Madonna," which is now in
the National Gallery.

Lastly we come to Michael Angelo, that great
sculptor, who came to the city as a boy of fourteen, and
who is buried in the Church of Sante Croce. He also
was a country lad, and his father would fain have
apprenticed him to some dealer in silk or wool, thinking
that he would get on in life better as a merchant than
as an artist.

But the boy's talent would not be suppressed in that

Its Painters and Sculptors 69

way, and after much opposition he was allowed to go
to Florence, and enter the workshop of Domenico

From the first he showed extraordinary talent.
Shortly after he went to the city, Lorenzo de' Medici,
u Lorenzo the Magnificent," who had a garden full of
beautiful statuary, arranged that a very clever sculptor,
named Butoldo, should come to the garden at certain
hours, and help any student who wanted to improve
himself by studying and copying these works of art.

Ghirlandajo thought this a very good opportunity
for his young apprentices to improve themselves, and
he sent Michael Angelo to the garden along with some
of the other lads.

Up till then Michael had never done anything else
but model in clay or bronze ; but, to everyone's astonish-
ment, after he had visited the garden two or three times,
he took up a chisel and a block of marble, and made such
a wonderful copy of a faun's head, that Lorenzo, seeing
that he had unusual ability, took him to live in his
house, and treated him as one of his own children.

But in four years the great man died, and the young
sculptor was thrown on his own resources. Perhaps this
was rather good for him, for he went " abroad " for a
time, visiting Venice, Bologna, and Rome, and doubtless
learned much from the works of art that he saw there.

When he returned to Florence, he carved one of his
most beautiful statues, and in doing so, he u killed two
birds with one stone," for he put the Fathers of the City
out of a difficulty, and at the same time produced a work
of art that has been the pride of Florence ever since.

This is how it happened : - A hundred years before,
the City Fathers had entrusted a huge and costly block

yo Florence

of marble to a sculptor named Simone da Fiesole, who
was to carve the figure of a giant out of it. Simone
undertook to do so, but he failed utterly, and an un-
shapely mass of marble was the result.

For a century it lay in the precincts of the Cathedral,
too heavy to be removed, and yet useless so people
thought. But Michael Angelo, looking at it, saw what
possibilities lay in its very shapelessness.

He modelled a figure in wax, of David, the shepherd-
lad, with a sling in his hand, and, taking it to the
Signoria, he said to them that, if they would allow him,
he would carve a like figure, only in gigantic propor-
tions, out of the marble by which they laid so little store,
and it could be set in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, to
show " that, as David had defended his people, and
governed them with justice, so whosoever governed
that city should boldly defend it, and justly govern it."

Permission was granted, and he, not wishing to be
troubled with curious onlookers, built a shed round
and over the block, and carved away at it with mallet
and chisel in private.

At last it was finished, and the barriers were taken
down, and there, white and dazzling in the sunlight,
stood a colossal statue of the youthful Hebrew hero,
perfect in every detail, except that one shoulder was a
little flat, because Simone had cut the stone away too
much in that place.

This statue stood for many years in front of the
Palazzo Vecchio, but at last, like Donatello's St. George,
it was considered too precious to be left out in the
open air, and it was removed to the Accademia delle
Belle Arti, where it now stands.

There are many other of Michael Angelo's statues in

Its Painters and Sculptors 7 i

Florence, especially in the Medici Chapel in the Church
of San Lorenzo ; indeed, the whole chapel was designed
and built by the great sculptor, and within it arc six
of his most famous works. These are the statues of
Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, father of Catherine de' Medici,
and of his uncle, Giuliano, son of Lorenzo the Magnifi-
cent, and four other figures, one of which is unfinished,
representing Day and Night, Dawn and Twilight.

There are many other things connected with Michael
Angelo in Florence. We can see his house and little
study in the Via Ghibellina, and the fortifications which
he built on the heights of San Miniato, when he was
called, along with the other townsfolk, to help to defend
the city against her foes. But in order to know all
about his life we should need to read some book which
is written about that alone.



WE have already visited the tiny square of San Mar-
tino, to see the almsbox belonging to the Good
Men of St. Martin, which is built into the wall of
St. Martin's Church.

But let us go back once more just to glance at this
newly-built house at the corner of the square, and read
the inscription over the arched doorway. It tells us
that the poet Dante, the greatest Florentine of all,
was born here.

Unfortunately the house has been completely rebuilt,
so it has not the associations that it otherwise would
have had, but at least we can say that it was here that
the poet was born, and in this square that he played as

72 Florence

a child, and in that little church across the road that he
was married.

You all know something of the story of Dante's life.
He was one of those seers, like the old prophets, and
like John Bunyan, to whom God spoke in a wonderRil
way, granting him a vision, or a very deep degree
of insight into the condition of souls after death

1 2 3 5 7

Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonFlorence → online text (page 5 of 7)